When the Capitals signed Tomas Vokoun to a one-year free agent deal this summer it essentially cemented Vokoun in as the starting goalie for Washington and gave them the lights-out goaltender their team hasn’t had since Olaf Kolzig was in his prime. With Semyon Varlamov sent off to Colorado in a trade, it cleared the path for Vokoun to get a job in D.C.
Of course, Michal Neuvirth was, with all respect to Varlamov, the #1 guy in goal for the Capitals last season and now he’s getting bumped off by a guy in Vokoun that was his childhood hero growing up in the Czech Republic. For Neuvirth, it’s providing him the opportunity to show his idol what he’s got and, perhaps, steal a few more starts than you’d think.
While Caps coach Bruce Boudreau has said that Vokoun is most likely going to be his starting goalie, Neuvirth tells Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post that he’s not giving up the starting job without a fight.
“Tomas might be one of the top three goalies in the league,” Neuvirth said. “So it’s a big opportunity for me to show I can be as good as this guy or even better. Obviously, I want to play the most games and I still want to be the number one goalie.”
Reminded of Boudreau’s comments, Neuvirth fired back, “It’s still summer. We still have three weeks until training camp. Whatever Bruce is saying, it doesn’t bother me. We’ll see what happens in training camp. Obviously, Tomas is a great goalie and I respect him.”
Neuvirth wouldn’t be expected to say anything other than that, really. But the stern look on his face suggested that it wasn’t just lip service.
It’s great that Neuvirth is fired up to try and keep his job. It’s not as if Neuvirth had a bad season last year, he did great in going 27-12-4 with a 2.45 goals against average and a .914 save percentage with four shutouts. Comparing that to what Vokoun did last year with the Panthers where he was a workhorse going 22-28-5 with a 2.55 goals against and a .922 save percentage on a much worse Florida team, the choice seems academic.
Of course, their play on the ice will determine how things play out in the end. That said, Vokoun has been one of the league’s best for the past few seasons, he was just unfortunate enough to have a bad team in front of him to help him win more games. That’s an issue Vokoun won’t have in Washington. Having a more-than capable duo of goalies, however, is huge for Washington. While the Varlamov-Neuvirth coupling was strong, a duo of Vokoun and Neuvirth should challenge for the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed. With the Caps new defensive system figured into things and their improved defensive unit, it might not matter who starts in goal on a given night for Washington.
Still, when it boils down to who “the man” will be come playoff time, unless Vokoun’s game erodes completely he should be the man. If Neuvirth is able to play himself into the competition, however, the Caps hopes of winning the Stanley Cup this year will be stronger than ever.